SIOUX CITY | County officials plan to explore making other agencies pay more for housing young people in the downtown Juvenile Detention Center, following years of not getting reimbursed enough to break even on some occupants.

"We are not charging enough per day, pretty simple, which means the taxpayers are footing the bill," said County Board member Mark Monson, of Sergeant Bluff, on Tuesday.

The center is in the Trosper-Hoyt Building, 822 Douglas St., which has room for 20 young people awaiting court cases. The county in recent years has signed agreements to house juveniles from Dakota County, Neb.; Union County, S.D.; and the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs, which handles legal issues on reservations. 

The center operates with a budget of $1.67 million, which equates to a cost of $312 per person per day last year. The outside agencies provided $233,000 in reimbursements and the state of Iowa gave $381,560 to the county, leaving $1.06 million for the county to cover.

James Van Bruggen, of the Sioux City-based watchdog group Taxpayer Research Council, said that's too much for the county to pay, so the out-of-county reimbursements should be higher than $100 per person per day. 

On Tuesday, 10 of the 15 occupants of the center were from outside Woodbury County.

Van Bruggen told the County Board Tuesday that officials need to increase the $100 fee and cut personnel costs. The center has three assistant directors and a director.

A similar facility in Cherokee, Iowa, charges $150 a day and a Council Bluffs facility has a $165 fee.

If this doesn't make the center more fiscally efficient, Van Bruggen said, discussions should be held on closing the downtown center and sending juveniles to another county, such as Cherokee.

Detention Center Director Mark Olsen said he’s against moving young people away from families and parole officers. "The kids are getting their needs met," Olsen said.

The contracts with the outside agencies expire in October. Officials said they'll review options when contract discussions start. 

County Board member Larry Clausen, of Sioux City, said the board is receptive to listening to suggestions, but he questioned the additional transportation costs associated with relocating young offenders to another site.

Olsen said changing occupancy numbers are common in facilities and aren’t a reason to change operations. The decrease also is the result of successful programs started in 2008 to keep low-risk offenders out of the center, as well as the use of electronic tracking bracelets for non-violent offenders.

"It doesn't make a lot of sense to me," Olsen said. "It is the nature of the beast for (center) numbers to go up and down."

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County and education reporter

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